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Corel PaintShop Pro X6 Ultimate review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £73
inc VAT

Some great features, but this minor update doesn't address our misgivings about performance and ease of use

A new version of PaintShop Pro has become a regular yearly fixture, but after 23 years and 16 versions, it’s getting increasingly hard to teach this old dog new tricks.

Among the new PaintShop Pro X6 features is a pair of selection tools that automatically trace the contours of objects in photos. It’s a great concept but hardly revolutionary, as Photoshop Elements’ Quick Selection Tool has had the same feature for years.

PaintShop Pro X6 Ultimate - Quick Selection
The Auto Selection tool is quick but unreliable

PaintShop Pro’s Smart Selection Brush works in a similar way, with the user drawing over the area to be selected and the software doing its best to guess the edges of the selection. It includes a Feather control for softening the edges of the selection but, confusingly, this must be set before using the brush.

With the Auto Selection tool, the user simply drags a box around the subject to be selected. Unfortunately, it had a zero success rate in accurately identifying the subject we wanted to select. Sometimes it was close, but it was usually quicker to start again from scratch with another tool than to correct the multitude of errors.

PaintShop Pro is now a 64-bit application, which means it can use more memory. This should be useful when opening lots of images at once and when working with very large images. However, it doesn’t support Adobe’s PSB format for working with gigapixel images, and it can’t create images wider or taller than 20,000 pixels. The JPEG format supports images up to 30,000 pixels wide or tall, but while we could open and edit existing JPEGs of that size (created with the Microsoft ICE panorama stitching software) PaintShop Pro insisted on resizing them to a maximum of 20,000 pixels when we opened the resize dialog box.

PaintShop Pro X6 Ultimate - Smart Selection
The Smart Selection Brush does a passable job of isolating shapes in a photo

We did various performance tests to compare PaintShop Pro X6 with X5, and struggled to find anything that revealed the benefit of X6’s 64-bit architecture. However, X6 resized our 200-megapixel panorama in nine seconds while X5 did it in 15 seconds. Effects took the same amount of time to adjust and apply.

We saw bigger differences when comparing PaintShop Pro X6 with Photoshop Elements 12. PaintShop Pro X6 opened the 200-megapixel JPEG in three seconds as opposed to Photoshop Elements’ six seconds. In other tests, including the application of effects, rotating layers and resizing images, Photoshop Elements was between two and 10 times faster.

We also found PaintShop Pro X6 Ultimate slower to use than Photoshop Elements because its interface isn’t as elegant. When copying a selection and pasting to a new layer, for example, Photoshop Elements maintained the position of the pasted material, which was often exactly where we wanted it. PaintShop Pro pasted it in the middle of the canvas, which was almost never where we wanted it. PaintShop Pro has a Paste Into Selection command that we hoped would remedy the problem, but the selection pasted into the existing layer. We created an empty layer first and then used Paste Into Selection, which gave us the result we wanted. However, that’s a long-winded solution to an unnecessary problem.

PaintShop Pro X6 Ultimate - Chisel
Because the Drop-shadow and Chisel effects are applied destructively, applying them in the wrong order can lead to problems

There are numerous similar examples. Moving, rotating and resizing a selection only shows a bounding box rather than the image itself as adjustments are made, so careful adjustment can be a lengthy process of trial and error. 3D effects such as drop shadow and chisel are applied destructively, so can’t be adjusted later, and layering them can cause problems. Corel mentions a cleaner user interface among the new features, but the changes we spotted are purely cosmetic and had no effect on the software’s behaviour.

PaintShop Pro X6’s handling of RAW files remains woefully inadequate. There are two entirely independent raw-processing modules in the Adjust and Edit modes, but neither provides the controls nor the underlying processing quality to make the most of RAW files.

PaintShop Pro X6 Ultimate - RAW Processing
The Adjust tab includes RAW processing, but adjustments are slow to update and quality isn’t up to scratch

Enhanced RAW support is on the new features list, but this only extends to the ability to edit the files’ metadata. Even then, it’s still not possible to rotate RAW images in Manage or Adjust modes. Adobe Lightroom leads the way for RAW management and editing, but Photoshop Elements benefits from the same high quality RAW-processing engine.

PaintShop Pro X6 Ultimate has various extra brushes, textures and stock images, a plug-in called Perfectly Clear and a standalone application called FaceFilter 3.

Perfectly Clear automatically enhances photos, manipulates white balance, brightness, contrast, saturation and applies sharpening and noise reduction. There are tick boxes and sliders for each component, but the default settings often gave excellent results, livening up colours without overcooking them. Perfectly Clear is a welcome addition to the suite, and we hope it sticks around for more than one update. It’s just a pity that Perfectly Clear’s tucked away under the Plug-ins subgroup of the Effects menu. This kind of quick fix would be much better off integrated into the Manage or Adjust tab.

PaintShop Pro X6 Ultimate - Perfectly Clear
The Perfectly Clear plug-in does an excellent job of livening up colours with minimal user intervention

It’s hard to know what to make of FaceFilter 3, which specialises in digital makeovers. It’s reasonably successful at removing blemishes, shiny skin and wrinkles. It can even apply virtual makeup. However, the results vary from creepy to ridiculous.

PaintShop Pro X6 Ultimate - FaceFilter
It doesn’t matter how proficient FaceFilter 3 is – it’s always going to be creepy

Taken on its own terms, PaintShop Pro X6 Ultimate has lots to offer, and it’s easy to see why users stick with it. However, we probably wouldn’t pay the upgrade price, and we think Photoshop Elements 12 is the better product for first-time buyers. It’s significantly faster and although it has its own weaknesses, Elements 12 does a much better job of streamlining the editing process.



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